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  • Writer's pictureKaren Caswell

Receiving the Gift of Help

Yesterday was ‘R U Ok? Day’ in Australia, which always prompts me to reflect on how I answer that question when asked. Recently we’ve faced some family challenges, which has resulted in me needing to take some leave from school so I can be at home. In the months prior, I was often asked how my family was and if I was okay. I would almost always answer, “We’re managing. I’m okay, thanks for asking.” Was this answer truthful? Sometimes, but in recent weeks it definitely wasn’t. Family, friends and colleagues also often asked how they could help. I know that the questions and offers were sincere, and that it is a gift when we open up to others, but that has always been so difficult for me. I’ve written before about my struggles with perfectionism (Trying to Fit the Mould), how perfectionism has been my strongest armour and what has driven me to try to prove my worthiness over and over again. This time, I’m going to bare my soul even more, as I want to share part of where I believe that need originates, and hopefully help others who find admitting you are not okay and accepting help a challenge.

As a ‘people pleaser’, a typical trait of the Type C personality, along with the Enneagram 6 need for the approval of others, I’ve often put aside what I wanted or felt and allowed someone else’s needs and feelings to take precedence. I was almost always a ‘good’ girl growing up, as I was afraid of displeasing my parents, or getting into trouble. I vividly remember the feeling of shame that would wash over me when I believed I had disappointed my parents. A tingling sensation that would race through my body as a result of a spike in cortisol and adrenaline. My heart would race and I would become short of breath. My stomach would clench and I would feel physically ill. My face would flush and I would hang my head, hunch my shoulders and become small. To further avoid feeling that way, I was almost always a model student, achieving high grades and positive platitudes on my report cards. I almost always went along with my friends as I wanted them to like me. As a wife, I usually allowed my husband to make the major decisions. As an employee, I was too afraid to speak up and share my views. On the rare occasions I did voice my thoughts or opinions in any of these contexts, I was sometimes told that I had let people down, or was criticised or even humiliated, reinforcing my belief that I wasn’t important, and needed to cater to the needs of others. There are many times in my adult life I recall feeling shame as well, such as asking a fairly innocent question once at a staff meeting, and the Principal responding so angrily, and in such a belittling way, that I felt totally humiliated. In this instance, he was the one who should have been ashamed, not me, however my immediate response was to feel that way, even though there was no need. Yet I still experienced that emotion and physiological response that I had felt as a child.

“Shame loves perfectionists – it’s so easy to keep us quiet.” Brene Brown

So, I always allowed others to lead and dominate. I always pushed my feelings way, way down as I never felt that I was allowed to let others know how I was feeling. I also always thought that no one was interested or really wanted to know about me. None of this was true, of course, but that didn’t stop me thinking that way.

“Be careful with the stories you tell about yourself.” Glennon Doyle, Untamed

How does this relate to accepting help, or my answer when asked if I’m okay? Even though I’ve worked hard over the past several years on myself – understanding what motivates my actions and reactions, learning to use my voice, and believing in my own worth – during times of stress I tend to default to the patterns of behaviour that were a part of me for so long. I feel a sense of having disappointed people when I need help. I still judge myself for not being able to ‘do it all’ or ‘handle everything’. Whilst I’m sincerely grateful and appreciative, I still feel guilty that I have to lean on others for support, or feel that I’ve added to their workload. I still find it hard to believe people truly care about me, imperfections and all, and genuinely want to help, and I know that is unfair to them. So I’m recommitting to vulnerability. I’m recommitting to openness and honesty. I’m recommitting to letting people in and allowing them to help. I’m recommitting to acceptance – accepting myself and accepting the support of others. And I’m committing to receiving the gifts offered to me.

“When you graciously receive, you give others the gift of giving.” Ray A. Davis

Am I okay? Honestly, not really. But I know I will be, thanks the love, kindness and generosity of others, which is a gift I accept with open arms.


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